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Cristian Eremia

Sursă foto: Mediafax

Ukraine - 2019 forecasts

The year 2019 is said to be extremely difficult for Ukraine, the country's overall situation being deeply affected in almost all the political, social-economic, defense and security dimensions that matter. More aggravating, however, is that resolving any state-level problem involves in the future an unknown Russian interference variable that complicates proportionately any internal and external political effort devoted to the issue. The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2019 will not be circumvented by the political reality mentioned.

The political, military, economic and other conflicts with Russia do not show any optimistic tendency. On the contrary, these multiple and overlapping confrontations involved the spiritual realm, the "church war" between Kiev and Moscow initiated this year (it was probably the only dimension unaffected by this hybrid war that Russia slowly “served” to Ukraine), far from being over in the following year, with all its obvious or confusing implications. On the whole, Kiev declares itself ready to face a “large-scale war” with Moscow, having a military campaign budget.

At the level of the whole of the country, it is very likely that the different speeds of absorption of democratic changes, of all kinds of reforms and the modernization of the state and its security structures will be more visible. As a result, the differences in approaching Kiev's policies in the eastern part of Ukraine, compared to the west and the capital, will become more pronounced.

Multidimensional confrontation with Russia

War in Eastern Ukraine

The war with the separatist forces, properly flanked by the Russian ones in Donbas, is likely to enter the sixth year of existence without showing any periods of interruption. Heavy winter conditions superimposed in the coming quarter with the political interests in Kiev to fade as far as possible the negative effects of this conflict in the electoral campaign, will make it in the first part of 2019 a "war of positions" with determined periods of reinfusion. The Joint Forces Operation (JFO) used the 30-day period as martial law (1) to strengthen the Ukrainian military platform with forces deemed necessary on the entire length of the contact line with the separatist forces. JFO did not prove to be, until now, a “successful operation” which could bring back the occupied territories and this situation might continue also in the following year. JFO’s tactic will continue to be the “small steps” one. The parties involved in the conflict will not refrain from military action over the contact line, the separatists being aware that the Ukrainian forces will not have the courage to trigger a large offensive, as this would draw the Russian regular forces into the battle.

Given that Moscow is decided to criticize Kiev, to block any dialogue with the actual Ukrainian president, to harass, on various directions, and to undermine in all possible methods the Ukrainian state until the elections will start, it might block any western political, diplomatic and military interference, which could modify Donbass “status-quo”. After the elections, it is expected that the Russian strategy for Ukraine will (re) be articulated depending on who will be installed on the new central political scene in Kiev.

However, the phrase "Ukraine must not be lost!" Seems to govern the whole package of Russian hybrid, political, military or economic actions designed to achieve this geopolitical objective. Until then, Moscow will take advantage of the Ukrainian internal difficulties of replenishing the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine with new military materials (including under dissimulated humanitarian aid), respectively to (re) strain the situation between the parts in conflict.

To that end, Kiev’s bellicose rhetoric against Moscow may not end in 2019. Ukraine will not accept to lose Crimea or the Eastern districts from Donbass and will permanently see Russia as a threat and a dangerous enemy. Kiev’s arguments are as strong and legitime as they can be, hence we expect Ukraine to have a hostile attitude against Russia, for long. In this atmosphere where the fierce domestic political struggle was exactly the missing ingredient, the emergence of new security incidents with the Russian forces and the reactivation of the war in Donbas not only can be excluded, but they become even probable risks to be taken into calculation by Ukrainian military strategies.

The maritime dimension of the war with Russia

The end of 2018 marked the start of the naval military confrontations in Kerch Strait’s waters, between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, and Kiev was again inferior to Moscow. Hence, Ukraine’s naval forces will need urgent modernization and reequipment actions to face, at least defensively, Russia’s predictable aggressive behavior.

Ukraine will have to act for the most part on its own, as it is expected that the Russian forces will block the attempts of foreign civilian or military intervention in the Azov Sea, while also producing severe limitations for US, NATO or EU forces to support Ukraine in the Black Sea. The lack of concrete Western reactions in this direction so far raises concerns for politicians and large segments of Ukrainian society, fearing that the takeover of Moscow's control of Crimea, the Azov Sea and then of the maritime areas adjacent to the Black Sea coast of Ukraine are issues already accepted, even tacitly, at international level.

Furthermore, in the following period, the Ukrainian part will have to plan a defence and implementation strategy of its sovereign rights in the Azov Sea and the Black Sea, in order to not offer any mixed signals and interpretations which could “justify” ulterior force actions from the Russian part. It will be a difficult task for the Ukrainian politicians and military strategists, but a necessary process to avoid new sea confrontations with the Russian forces, respectively to prohibit the development of some different dimension confrontations, the air one, also disfavoring for Kiev. The risk for the Kiev confrontations with Moscow to increase is already high enough in the following electoral period.

The 2019 electoral year, a test for democracy

In the following year, Ukraine will organize the presidential elections in March, and the Parliamentary ones in November. It is still too early to predict which political movements or politicians will take the power. But we can predict that the process will extremely laborious for the ones who will run the electoral competition, including for the current president, for the Ukrainian authorities and institutions which have to ensure the necessary framework for the free elections and to eliminate any internal extremist interferences or foreign toxic influences.  It will be difficult for the Ukrainian electorate to decide upon the most adequate person to lead the Ukrainian state, a state which is about to go to an undeclared war with Russia, and which has a pending intrinsic division on the West-East axis.

Additionally, both electoral processes are great opportunities for huge Russian open or covert interferences to undermine the young Ukrainian democracy and to (re) bring to power politicians and political forces in favor with Moscow. Russia will exploit the different systems that it already has in Ukraine, composed of Russian agenda’s “loyal subjects” on the Ukrainian territory, and which have different positions in many activity sectors. Another important element is Kiev’s lack of combat actions against Russian interferences, which can bring Ukraine the same scenario applied by Moscow in Republic of Moldavia, where it was “promoted” a pro-Russian president.  Or, even more serious, after a pro-Russian president would be elected, a pro-Russian parliament to be formed as well, with all the consequences it can being for Ukraine.

Internal stability and statehood

President Porosenko and Kiev’s executive maintained, until now, a certain internal stability, to slow the potential social and economic slump. This process was supported by some agreements between the central power and the local administration to practice a decentralization of the power towards the local leaderships from some regions and big cities, like Odessa, Harkhov, Lviv, Zaporozhye. However, situations of political radicalization of local governments may occur in the near future in the context of the "2019 election season". On this background, latent separatism will tend to a dangerous amplitude.

From the perspective mentioned above, it will be tracked Kiev’s control deterioration over the local leaders from south and west of the state, especially from Odessa, Melitopol, Kherson, Mykolaiv regions, as well as the ones from north of the regions Rivne, Jitomir and Volyn.  On the other hand, the evolutions in the last period are suggesting that there are still some obvious mentality, internal and external political orientations, cultural or linguistical differences between distinct parts of the Ukrainian state, the most concentrated being in West and East of the country. Additionally, separatism could be increased in the future by the lack of local political leaders and citizens will to support some anti-Russian policies.

As consequence, we can expect Ukraine to enter in an instability condition, until the 2019 elections, which, according to some internal political circles, if things will get out of control, it could lead the country to a dangerous trajectory.

All the things mentioned above will, probably, determine Kiev and the politicians who will run the elections, to be extremely careful in managing the situation in the region, which means that they will have to create a more united Ukrainian society. It is expected president Poroshenko to continue to maintain the statehood, regardless if he will touch some democratic principles.

Reforms and economy

Regardless of elections results, Kiev’s authorities will have to continue, in 2019, a series of actions dedicate to implement all sort of reforms, being constantly supported by Western international states and organizations, obviously, if the new leaders will want so. Anyhow, things cannot remain in this transitory phase wherein the started processes got to.

Given that, lately, there were recorded some systemic inertias and extremely heavy reform processes, it is likely that some ”fatigue” will also be noted in 2019 when Kiev comes to reforms processes, including to those which are applied to the national defence and security system. In 2019 efforts will have to be concentrated, including those of a financial nature, to continue the military reforms and to start the announced modernization activities of state’s force structures, to build new combat military units and a defence force group in case of an external aggression, to improve army’s equipment and the other force structures.

These processes need an adequate financing, time and especially external cooperation with the Western partners. In an electoral year, there will be favorable internal political conditions to “simulate” the anticorruption fight, to end the reforms, to have a more reduced budgetary discipline, or to develop defective programs to privatize and stimulate the foreign investments. Next year’s elections will be a brake on the Ukrainian political forces involvement in adopting the legislative acts to impose the decisive reforms, or certain “sacrifices” for the society, because such laws could also contain anti-popular elements in a period with extremely complicated political interests.

Ukraine’s macro-economic equilibrium was, probably, one of the accomplishments of the actual Ukrainian executive. And the good news for 2019 came from IMF (as a reaffirmation of the financial support for Ukraine, although the Fund is obviously disappointed in 2018’s progresses), which adopted a treaty[1] with Ukraine to offer them a new accommodation which opens a $ 3.9 billion credit line.

And because it was all about the multiple dimensions of the Ukrainian-Russian war, let us mention the economic component of the reciprocal "war of sanctions" that the two states will carry in 2019. Russian Prime Minister Medvedev added (29.12.2018) existing sanctions (3) a new list of goods from Ukraine that will be subject to Russian economic sanctions. The Russian side has announced that it will drastically limit Russian investments in the Ukrainian economy, reduce agricultural products and energy resources destined for Ukraine. This last detail will generate in Kiev, not only in the winter of 2019, big problems on the line of ensuring energy security and sustainable energy prices without the risk of internal economic slippages.

Paradoxically or not, according to Russian statistics and despite the multiple Ukrainian-Russian confrontations, Russia is one of the last bigger investors in the Ukrainian economy, and Moscow did not apply, yet, restrictive diplomatic and economic measures to Ukraine’s political regime in charge.

([1]) Ukraine’s president, Petro Porosenko, announced on 26.12.2018 the end of applying martial law’s regime. We should bear in mind that this regime was introduced on 26.11.2018, for a 30 days period, only in certain regions wherein a possible Russian invasion could occur after the naval military confrontation from the Kerch Strait. The Ukrainian Parliament approved president’s decree regarding the introduction of this regime, which was foreseeing, among others, the possibility to temporary restrain citizens’ constitutional liberties and rights, including the right to participate to elections, or the freedom to express themselves.

(2) The new treaty signed with FMI is a “stand-by arrangement” type, which lasts 14 months and will replace the treaty signed in 2016, which was going to expire in March 2019.

(3) President Putin signed (22.10.2018) the decree whereby there were imposed special sanctions to Ukraine, mostly economic-financial ones, as a response to the “unfriendly and hostile approach against Russia”. The simplest measures refer to natural and juridical Ukrainian persons whose accounts, capitals and other financial-economic choses and existent materials on Russia’s territory will be blocked. There will be forbidden any capital exports to Ukraine. The other measures will refer to Ukrainian state’s economic security, which will face supplementary destabilizing pressures from Russia. We should remind you that Ukraine introduced (after the US and EU), many sanctions against more than 100 Russian commercial societies and almost 400 Russian citizens, but also sanctions against the Russian transport companies for cooperating with the separatists from Donbass. Kiev announced also some unilateral measures to reduce the economic connections with ports from Russia, after the Russian blockade from the Azov Sea.